The smallest offers of grace are often the most profound, as Kerry Trotter learned last weekend, when forgiveness, understanding and a daughter's love played out in one small but moving vignette. Read on for the little lessons of love we can appreciate on Mother's Day.
Running the gauntlet of servers toting piping-hot dishes of eggplant parmesan and chicken cacciatore, a gaggle of starry-eyed date nighters, and some down-to-business foodies waiting for tables, I caught my toddler daughter as she lunged out of my arms. It was nearing her bedtime, our meals at the bustling Italian restaurant had not arrived, and she wanted out.
So we were heading out.
I buried my slight annoyance that our shrimp scampi appetizer had just arrived, and that my husband, visiting mother-in-law and I were sharing boisterous, interesting conversation. My daughter needed to run around outside and I drew the short straw. This is mothering, I thought, get used to it.
As we walked down the few steps to the front door, I wrangled my squirrely baby in one arm while holding the door open for two women heading inside. They in no way indicated that they were grateful I went out of my way to be polite, much less noticed how this door was mysteriously being opened for them.
I began to fume at their gall, and I felt a not-so-infrequent burst of hot headedness consume me. I snapped, but in a most passive-aggressive way.
“You’re welcome!” I barked, letting the contempt in my voice echo to a bassy thunder in the narrow staircase.
The second woman wheeled around with a quick, involuntary, “Oh! Thank you!” just as the door closed behind them. I put my antsy daughter down on the sidewalk to toddle around and tried to cool my temper. The nerve, I thought.
About a half a block from the restaurant, with my daughter giggling and sniffing some low hanging lilacs, I began to replay the “game tape” in my head. There was the diving daughter, there was my heroic show of politeness, there was the snub, there was my I-showed-them display of comeuppance. Then there was an image my mental video reel had caught but that I had failed to, a picture that would have prompted a referee to blow the whistle—a Zapruder-esque tableau I had missed as the seething burn of annoyance clouded my vision.
What I now recalled was that the woman with the late thank you was an attractive blonde, likely in her late-50s, trailing another woman, presumably her mother, who was elderly.
Very elderly. Like, difficulty walking, particularly up stairs, elderly.
The blonde had her eyes locked on her mother’s slow-moving feet, her hand wrapped around her mother’s frail upper arm, her own hand on the rail to steady their fragile caravan. All her attention was focused on ensuring her mom's safe arrival inside the door.
I began to feel my heart sink.
Just at that moment of revelation, my husband appeared down the block giving us the signal that our dinners had arrived. I told him of my gaffe, and he shook his head and grinned, a sort of “that’s my wife” shrug of acceptance. As we entered the crowded restaurant, I spotted the blonde woman and put my head down in shame, hoping I could sneak by unnoticed.
No such luck. As we shimmied past the packed bar on our way to our table near the back, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Shoot. Here we go.
“I wanted to let you know that I was going to say thank you. I am so, so sorry if I was rude,” the woman said, her kind eyes devoid of any resentment or defensiveness.
“No, I’M sorry,” I pleaded. “I was aggravated at having to leave our table and I took it out on you and I was such a jerk.”
“Don’t you dare apologize!” she insisted, nodding at my daughter who was smiling over my husband’s shoulder. “It’s hard work. I know.”
I felt my eyes well with tears, and I squeezed her shoulder in thanks. The woman’s mother sat on a barstool, oblivious to the goings-on, her expression that of a person whose thoughts were locked in a time and place that was neither here nor now. Her daughter’s act of grace was instantly magnified. I said my final “I’m sorry” and “thank you for being so kind” and headed back to my eggplant parmesan.
I was a little quieter than I usually am at dinner, reflecting on this tiny moment of humility, forgiveness and kinship. I glanced at my wonderful mother-in-law across the table, who three years ago this month selflessly moved her own elderly parents with a very demanding set of needs into her home. I thought of my own mother who lovingly cares for my daughter several days a week when I work, never for a second displaying any emotion but sheer joy at the arrangement. I then kissed my daughter on her sweet head, flummoxed by how this patient, perfect creature could be so crazy about the flawed knucklehead that gave birth to her.
After some time had passed, I noticed the mother-daughter duo had been seated at a table, and the image broke my heart. It was just the two of them, across from one another, on a little “date night” of sorts. The daughter was patient with her mother, pointing items out on the menu and making the place setting more accommodating. Her mother’s tiny shoulders were unmoving, but a shaky hand slowly made its way to the breadbasket. They smiled at each other.
I prayed to God that my daughter would be half as good to me as this daughter was to her mom, and that I could do the same for my own magnificent mother.
When our dinner was through and the ice cream dessert had lulled my daughter into a complicit, huggy haze, she wrapped her arms around my neck as we headed for the door. I stopped at my new friend’s table, crouched down and thanked her again for being so kind. She grabbed my arm and smiled. Her mother, unaware of what had transpired, smiled, too.
I buried my face into my daughter’s sweet neck to wipe my tears, grateful for this unexpected lesson in mothering, daughtering and grace.
In the fastidious care and compassion with which a daughter followed her mother up the stairs I gleaned the most profound lesson in how to lead.
Kerry Trotter is the content manager for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.